On 13th May 2023, Budafok Dohnányi Orchestra will present a spectacular Game Music Concert Show with music, dance and fascinating visuals from the most popular, iconic video games for gamers and audiences open to exciting symphonic music.

This game has been announced on our Facebook page and we are inviting you to comment on the post by entering the name of the video game without whose music a Game Music Show would be unthinkable.

We will raffle 10 sets of tickets for two for BDO’s unique symphonic concert show, the GAMER SYMPHONY!

The deadline for submitting comments is 16 April 2023 (12 midnight).

Budafok Dohnányi Orchestra will draw lots on 18 April 2023 at 11.00 a.m. and the winners will be notified by direct messaging on Facebook Messenger.

The depths of earth’s sorrow: Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde at Müpa Budapest

The blending of stirring, richly textured music and downbeat, desolate poetry makes an intoxicating cocktail, no more so than in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. At Müpa Budapest last night, Roberto Paternostro and the Dohnányi Orchestra Budafok launched into the opening Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde with huge energy and plenty of Schwung – we knew we were in for a high octane ride.

Roberto Paternostro conducts the Dohnányi Orchestra Budafok © Péter Mocsonoky

Roberto Paternostro conducts the Dohnányi Orchestra Budafok

© Péter Mocsonoky

However, mixologists need to get their proportions right. An orchestra at that wall-of-sound level would need a Heldentenor with a truly massive voice to be heard above it and Erin Caves was submerged in the cascading waves of sound. Which was a shame, because Caves proved himself wonderfully adept at entering into the character of the poetry. In Das Trinklied, he plumbed the depths of Earth’s Sorrow with the refrain “Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod” (dark is life, dark is death) enunciated with fervour that increased at every repeat. He was a genial companion in Von der Jugend, the one genuinely cheerful interlude in the whole work, and then produced a riveting Der Trunkene im Frühling. Caves incarnation of a sad drunk – or rather an apparently happy drunk who veers into maudlin misery at the slightest opportunity – was utterly compelling.

The mezzo role was taken at short notice by Atala Schöck, standing in for the indisposed Szilvia Vörös. Schöck is a very fine singer and gave us wonderful sound production: super-smooth legato, attractive timbre, clear German diction. But the lack of preparation showed: the ends of phrases were slightly clipped, where lingering a little longer would have given more of the Mahlerian effect of sadness wafting in the air. And for her first two songs, Der Einsame im Herbst and Von der Schönheit, her engagement with the text wasn’t as total as one might have hoped for. Schöck was at her best in the closing Abschied, with the heartache of farewell and the musing on the beauty of the world tellingly put across – I was suffused by the thought that Mahler’s contrast between human mortality and the eternal beauty of the world feels particularly bitter in these times where the survival of the natural world’s beauty is decidedly in question.

Erin Caves, Atala Schöck and Roberto Paternostro © Péter Mocsonoky
Erin Caves, Atala Schöck and Roberto Paternostro
© Péter Mocsonoky

Throughout the evening, there was a lot of quality on show from individual instrumentalists, with beautiful woodwind phrases and brass which could impose itself or blend into a texture. As ever in this concert hall, the details of every instrument were distinct and vivid. Paternostro is a straightforward conductor: there are no histrionics, just simple giving of tempo and cues with which his musicians seemed completely comfortable. And a hat tip to the surtitle operators; Hungarian and English surtitles were expertly timed to each line of German, making the meaning especially easy to follow.

I’m never sure that a mighty Mahler Symphony needs to be preceded by a shorter Classical work played by a smaller subset of the musicians. Last night wasn’t an exception. Haydn’s Symphony no. 99 in E flat major was played competently enough but won’t linger long in the memory. However, I will be taking every chance I get to return to Das Lied von der Erde.

“The stage is good for me!”

Opera singer Szilvia Vörös is the daughter of a family of musicians. She went to a music primary school in her hometown of Ajka, and although there were some detours on her way to bigger and bigger cities and international success, she says everything always had to happen just like and just when it did.

Text: Kriszta Máté

Szilvia Vörös’ personality radiates calmness and also a positive sense of discipline. These are probably the very qualities she may need as an artist at the Vienna Opera to adapt to the daily rehearsal schedule and the strange situation of recent years.

“Refi taught me a system”

My first question is regarding the influence of the Calvinist grammar school in Pápa as her first station away from his parents’ house and the security of home. I wonder if it had anything to do with the discipline that is so tangible in her. She says thoughtfully that, interestingly, she doesn’t feel particularly disciplined, but the Grammar School of Pápa Reformed College – “Refi”, as insiders say (short form of “reformed” which is the colloquial name of the Calvinist Church and denomination in Hungary – the tr.) – certainly taught her a system to follow.

It was a strict school, we had to attend on Saturdays, too, but thanks to the so-called cycle system at the time, the weekend classes accumulated over 4-5 weeks were later compensated by a one-week break.”

Being away from home was very difficult at first. The fact that she persisted was thanks to her mother, who always encouraged her not to give up so easily. It might have been a challenge at first, but looking back it was definitely worth it and lifelong friendships were formed.

But how did she get from Ajka to the Calvinist Grammar School in Pápa? The answer is a funny story: “My father was a trumpet and flute teacher and the conductor of the brass band in Ajka. He once took one of his pupils to a trumpet competition, where he met a boy from an advanced trumpet course who enthusiastically told him about Refi and how he enjoyed being a student there. Later, we heard some good things about the school from other people we knew, and as I had no specific plans for further studies, I took the written and oral admission exams. And I got in.”

During high school, music classes receded into the background for a while; just one private singing lesson a week – after the usual weekly dose of four singing lessons, two solfège lessons, two piano lessons and choir practices back in the music primary school. After the first year, however, she felt the desire to sing again and started studying with a private singing teacher, Ágota Eisenbeck. With her guidance and help, she became more and more confident in music. She could have gone to secondary school to the Győr Conservatory to study music theory and solfège. (Her mother is also a music teacher, piano and solfège, so it would have been a very obvious choice.) “But back then I decided to go to the grammar school, because I thought why teach something that every child hates? Of course, the Calvinist grammar school seems to be a bit of a detour, because afterwards I ended up in Győr, albeit at a solo singing course under Veronika Dobi-Kiss’ wing. I studied there for a year and a half, and then I was accepted to the University of Art in Graz for a so-called cross-semester course, and eventually spent half a year there.”

“Éva Marton was in for a surprise, too”

“The ‘coincidences’ of my life were revealed in Graz, too; the power of Providence that eventually brought me to the Music Academy. If I had stayed in Hungary, I certainly would not have started as a university student in 2008, as I did not apply for higher education. But it was in that year that I won the first category of the Simándy József International Singing Competition, where Éva Marton noticed me and asked me to apply to the Liszt Academy. As both universities were already operating under the Bologna system at the time, I was able to transfer from Graz to Budapest despite not having submitted an application form.

Then came the big city life, which she had to get used to: the hustle and bustle, everyone in a hurry, everything moving so fast. She studied in Éva Marton’s class, where she also did pretty well. “Éva Marton is a strict teacher, she has an atmosphere of her own, but if you make efforts and do well, you can develop a very good relationship with her.” It was during her studies at the Music Academy that it she realised: this was clearly and definitely her path to follow. To my question about when exactly she realised that this was something that could allow her to give, something she had to embrace, she said: “I think I’m a person who builds up slowly, I need more time to not have that tense frenzy in me, but to be able to convey the feelings and messages associated with a musical role. And have fun at the same time. The stage has done good to me, and eventually I got used to stage fright. Thus, when I sang Kodály’s Nausikaa at the first-year student concert, Éva Marton herself was surprised, because previously, in class, I had not been able to show everything I had in me that, however, managed to come through in my performance at the concert. It was there that Nausikaa was born in me.”

We talk a little about the development of voice, and when she found out what voice parts and corresponding roles she would be singing. “Your voice register starts to emerge after mutation, but you have to start carefully in working out the voice type! It’s very important that one’s character is also a determining factor in one’s suitability for a role. You have to be able to separate the desires from the person. I, for example, am a great fan of Puccini’s Liù from Turandot or the soprano aria Quia respexit from Bach’s Magnificat, but it is not enough to like the melody and want to be part of a performance. Of course, you need a teacher to help you assess and dig up your talents, and to give you signposts along the way, so that in time you can stand on your own two feet.” But let’s go back to the Music Academy! It was an unexpected turn that brought her there, and it was in a similar way that the Vienna Opera came into her life. It was not a long cherished dream of hers.

“The capacity for progress”

In 2014, Szilvia won the 1st Éva Marton International Singing Competition. “It was a huge and inspiring milestone in my life. When you are praised and constantly receive good feedback, it can give you strength and confidence. But for a healthy self-awareness, we also need criticism that points out our mistakes and shortcomings, because I believe that it is through them that we can improve. Throughout my life, I have had and continue to have people who teach me, guide me and give me feedback, people I trust unconditionally and value their comments. For that I am extremely grateful to them. After the Marton Competition, I had the feeling that I had achieved a great success, that this was an important step in my career. At the same time, I had never sung anywhere outside Hungary. And this country is small and the music scene is quite limited. I had a strange, dissonant feeling, and I felt – to use a not too nice image – that every little cock could be master of its own heap. To be able to grow and change, first we must first know ourselves.

So I started my search to find out where I was at the time, where it would be worth to go next. This is one of the reasons why I applied for master classes and singing competitions. And another story to prove that failures do happen for a reason: in the 2015 Neue Stimmen auditions, 42 people were selected from around the world for the live rounds in Germany. I wasn’t in the best state of mind or voice at the time, so I didn’t make it through the first round. But it turned out that ranking wasn’t the main point. Since it was possible to ask the jury members for feedback, I took the opportunity to contact Evamaria Wieser, who was the head of the Young Singers project at the Salzburg Festival. Even though I didn’t perform to the best of my ability, she heard something in my voice and suggested I go to the audition in Salzburg. At that audition, I performed exceptionally well and was given the opportunity to participate in the 2016 Young Artist Programme.”

At that point, she had been a private singer at the Hungarian State Opera for two years, since 2014, where she spent four years before being contracted by the Vienna Opera for the 2018/2019 season. As by now she has spent similar periods of time in both operas, I ask her to compare the two institutions. “In Budapest, singers have been working as freelance singers since the early 2000s, but in Vienna there is a company. At home, we sign up for roles, which gives us a bit more freedom to decide what we say yes to and what we say no to. But of course, you also have to be lucky to be asked. In Vienna, we are given a lot of tasks in the company, not only to learn the roles that I’m going on stage with, so my name is in the cast, but as a company member, in case my colleague in the play can’t be there for illness or other reasons, I have to be ready to jump in. This is called ‘covering’. That is, I prepare and learn both the role and the direction. It’s a more complex task, and the singer is also a little more vulnerable because of the obligatory roles he or she has to take on. Of course, there is room for dialogue, if one can give a good reason why one does not want to/can’t sing the role in question. But in return, there is a fixed salary, whereas as a freelancer you get paid for the roles you actually sing.” The difference between the two opera houses is that while the Hungarian State Opera works mainly with Hungarian singers, the Staatsoper has a very diverse company, with some big names from all over the world singing the main roles night after night.

I have colleagues from Australia, Mexico and Russia, but I have also worked with fellow singers from South Korea, China and South Africa.

Just a frill or real magic?

There is no getting around the question of the two-year-long epidemic measures; what it was like to live alone in Vienna, away from the family, with the opera house closed. “I had friends who sang in the choir and went home for Easter, but couldn’t return because the borders had been closed. Frankly speaking, for me the first period of covid was liberating, both because it suddenly cut an end to a terribly busy and exhausting period (from mid-January to the end of March I had 9 roles to prepare for and/or sing on stage) and although I was left alone in Vienna, I could dedicate time to what I loved doing. It was a good period of self-discovery: I started painting with acrylics, it was spring, the sun was shining, I went for walks and hikes. Of course I practised and learned my roles, too, and in June the rehearsals re-started. We could give concerts with piano accompaniment to an audience of 100 people. This second phase was harder, as the last time I had sung on stage was in February. After that, there were concerts in the summer, but in the new season I only did covering in September and October. My next performance was on 4 November, but by then another lockdown period was starting. So I was off the stage for eight months, it was all quite hopeless, winter came, it was difficult. Fortunately, from December onwards, the opera switched to online performances, so from the next January I was actively rehearsing for Nabucco and Carmen. We rehearsed Carmen for 6 weeks, as it was a première at the Staatsoper. By the way, this Calixto Bieito production has been running successfully for over 20 years. It is extremely rough and intense, so Mercedes’ character didn’t sell easily for me at the beginning, but it was worth every effort to work with it. I don’t like to separate performances into modern and traditional productions. I think there are good and bad productions. And it doesn’t matter what costumes or sets are used to stage the play, both can be spoiled if the director doesn’t give meaning to the connections. If you can build up the play well, so that there is a framework to give it direction from beginning to end, if there are concrete relationships and characters, you can make a very good production even with a minimal or modern set. In Carmen, the scene changes were so subtle, so well proportioned, that even without an audience, our streamed performance had fantastic energy. The long rehearsal process also helped us tune in with each other and the play. This feat, perhaps because of the new protagonists and the shorter rehearsal period, could not be repeated later in the May/June performances, which were already in front of the audience.”

The question arises about audiences: is there any place in the world where there is a really good audience, is there a favourite one? As she sees it, the place almost doesn’t matter at all, it’s just the spirit and mood of the audience that always also sits in the room. If there is no capacity to receive, then it’s almost irrelevant what kind of energy is at work on stage. Of course, each production also requires preparation on the part of the performers. Along with the music and the direction, if there is no desire to communicate, and if we fail to evoke the right emotions, or do not get psyched up for the performance, then it is difficult to create real theatre. However, if both the receiver and the performer are active in their “roles”, then the channel is created and this dynamic will give the evening its quality, its dialogue. It would be foolish to think that this can be repeated every time, but the effort will bring around the much longed-for opportunity with time. “When a performance goes very well, it is said that an angel has passed over the stage. I was incredibly lucky, because when I played the role of Anna in Berlioz’s grand opera in Vienna in my first season, the entire cast and audience had a cathartic experience at the public rehearsal. It’s rare to have this kind of interweaving, but that’s what makes it beautiful.”

How interesting that a streamed performance without an audience can give the cast a cathartic experience, like the aforementioned Carmen, even though the cast may feel as if they are singing to themselves. “I was just talking to a friend the other day about how I have felt useless several times in the last two years, and I’ve been wondering seriously what happens when what I do no longer has a raison d’être in the 21st century, how much it is still considered a frill, a luxury item – or, more in general, how important culture itself is. I was somewhat reassured by her answer, and even if the question itself does arise, humanity will always have a need for culture. It can be incredibly rewarding to be able to go to the theatre or the opera and shut out the outside world for two or three hours and be completely enchanted by and in another world.”

The six pillars of human existence

Mahler: The Song of the Earth

If you wanted to write a work about earthly existence,what motifs would you choose? What would you consider the most defining experience of existence on Earth? From what perspective would you try to capture this journey that is so rich in experiences? Would you choose a happy tone or a sad one? Would you write about events or feelings? Moments of joy or things missed? About grievances, fears or lessons learned? How would you look back from the end of your life to life itself, in which you have travelled your own path as a traveller?

Text: Romola Ortutay

In Mahler’s The Song of the Earth, he answers all these questions, bringing together the aspects of life that fundamentally define existence on earth for him in six songs: he looks back on life as a whole through stages of pain, loneliness, youth, beauty, resignation and farewell.

Naming it a song out of superstition

Mahler originally intended his work as a symphony for two vocal soloists and orchestra, and it was only because of his own superstition that, eventually, it got named a song cycle. It was in the year 1907 that he began to write the first notes of his new piece. By this time he had already written eight symphonies. However, he hesitated to call the work in progress Symphony No. 9, because no one in this genre had managed to go beyond the magic number nine since Beethoven: all of Mahler’s predecessors who had reached the 9th symphony died shortly after. That he was secretly thinking in terms of a symphony is revealed in the structure of the work: the first movement is a regular sonata form, the second a traditional slow movement, the third, fourth and fifth incorporate the Intermezzos and the Scherzo, and the sixth the slow Finale. It is interesting to note that after writing the song cycle, Mahler actually completed his 9th symphony, and after finishing it, he even started the tenth. Ironically, he did not manage to finish it, leaving only a fragment of it for posterity.

Melancholy, wisdom and a wax scroll

The genesis of the work was influenced by a number of events. In 1907, Mahler was living through one of the darkest and most critical periods of his life: he had lost his eldest daughter, the pain of which was still vivid in him. His leading position in the Viennese court opera was also in jeopardy, and he was eventually forced to resign. His marriage also went through a critical moment and his health deteriorated: he was diagnosed with a serious heart condition. The only joy he had left was the joy of work, but his gloomy mood was an essential element, defining his days. It was then that a friend gave him a book of poetry by Hans Bethge, a German philosopher, Germanist and Romance scholar, entitled Die chinesische Flöte (The Chinese Flute). Bethge had read French prose translations of poems by Chinese poets of the Tang Dynasty (7th-9th centuries), and was so fascinated by their beauty that while creating his own compositions he almost re-versified the original poems. After reading the poems, Mahler was struck by their melancholy mood, the wisdom in them and the attitude to life they suggested, so he decided to choose a few poems and set them to music.

Almost at the same time, he received a wax roll of original Chinese music from a friend, and he was also studying his musicologist friend Guido Adler’s treatise on the music of the Far East. These were the impulses that led him to the idea of a song cycle, in which heterophony, a characteristic motif of Far Eastern music, would be used, but also pentatonic tone lines.

Six poems – six images

Mahler allowed himself the freedom to select and touch on poems freely from Bethge’s volume, rather than following the original poems one by one. Thus, for example, the text of the last song is the result of merging two poems. Each of the selected texts is in some way related to all things that bring joy and beauty in life, but also to suffering, because these things, by their ephemeral nature, cannot be preserved forever.

The song cycle begins with a drinking song, in which the toast given by the lyricist is not to life, but death. For the one who makes the toast, the consolation for all the pain, withering, passing away and sorrow that life on earth can bring is to drink wine. And although in the image of spring the eternity of Heaven is glimpsed for a moment, it is immediately confronted by the mortality of Man, and death bursts into life in the form of the roaring of an ape, reminding us of its finiteness.

The second poem, entitled The Lonely Man in Autumn, depicts the autumn landscape in painting-like images, the moment when the still-blossoming trees begin to drop their petals. Here, the changing of the seasons remind us that everything that brings us joy slowly fades away. Just as the weary autumn landscape is left alone with the memory of the blossoming trees, so too the human heart is filled with remembrances when it is tired: it bids farewell to its love and laments its loneliness.

The title of the third poem is Of Youth, and it is an idyllic image of a day spent in a white porcelain pavilion, where friends engage in light chatting and writing poems. The idyllic setting is defined by the tranquillity of the pond surrounding the pavilion, with the moon shining in the background. It’s a picture of a perfect day, with its simplicity, the carefree ease of youth, the reflection of the pavilion in the pond, when we are not yet thinking of the passing of time.

The fourth poem – Of Beauty – captures an almost dreamlike moment: “young girls” with “slender limbs” and a “perfumed scent” are picking flowers on the riverbank when suddenly a troop of young horsemen passes by, “gleaming like the sun’s rays”. One of the young men’s horses “neighs happily”, attracting the attention of one of the girls, whose heart is immediately touched by love. The young man rides on, and the girl looks after him longingly. The whole picture fades like a vision… and so does love.

In the fifth poem, entitled The Drunkard in Spring, dream and wakefulness alternate, but the stupor makes it difficult to draw the line between the two states. Wakefulness is overwhelmed by the agonies of life, so there is nothing left to do but drink to exhaustion. In the loneliness and drunken mood of the night, the image of spring appears for a moment, but the speaker no longer knows whether it is real or a vision, because in his heart he has given up on it.

The last poem is entitled The Farewell. It is a beautiful description of nature quietly going to rest: the earth is also in need of repose, “the world falls asleep”. The wanderer, who has walked the earth far and wide, now returns to his homeland to seek rest for his “lonely heart”. The thought of a final farewell is expressed in his words, and the heart calms down when it thinks of home: but it is no longer the home of this world.

Freedom from all bonds

The last lines foreshadow the image of spring, when the earth will blossom again and “everywhere and forever / the distances are blue and bright”. Life is eternal, suffering can only be linked to life on earth, but behind earthly existence something higher, something immortal is revealed… At the end of the poem, everything is illuminated by this otherworldly light. Death is no longer a renunciation or a pain, but also a release from the bonds of time, and the pains of earthly life are dissolved in infinite eternity:

“…the beloved earth

blooms in the spring and

is newly green! Everywhere and forever

the distances are blue and bright!

Forever . . . forever . . . ”


(English translation of the poems cited: Larry Rothe)

“I hear music differently now”

Author: Réka Ortutay

Budafok Dohnányi Orchestra has been working with Roberto Paternostro for more than 15 years. The highly skilled, broad-minded conductor, who is about to return to the podium after a long hiatus, will conduct the orchestra on Earth Day in this season. Their performance on 22 April at Müpa Budapest will include Mahler’s The Song of the Earth.

– You have Italian and Jewish roots. How has this influenced your cultural identity?

– My mother is Austrian, of Jewish origin, my father is Italian. They met in America. I grew up in two cultures, so to speak; as a child I spent a lot of time in both Israel and Italy. This duality, the different experiences had a strong influence on my life and on my cultural perception.

– What inspired you to become a musician? Were there musicians in your family?

– Apart from my aunt, who worked at the Teatro La Fenice, there were no professional musicians in the family, but everyone was very musical and music played an important part in our lives. One of my uncles, for example, emigrated to London in 1938, where he became a producer for EMI and was able to work with some great personalities of the musical art world such as Karajan, Klemperer and Sawallisch. Whenever we spent time together, he told me a lot about these musical legends, so practically I grew up with stories about them.

– Did you have an artistic role model?

– Since I grew up in Vienna, I got to see and hear the greatest masters play in concert halls. I got to hear Solti, Karajan, Kleiber and Karl Böhm live, whether in concert or rehearsal. It was a wonderful experience and they all became my role models. I had exceptionally high respect for Klemperer, whose daughter is a very dear friend of mine, and Karajan, as I was his assistant for five years.

– The conductors you have just mentioned were all exceptional artists. What do you think makes an artist exceptional?

– Well, that’s a mystery. But certainly, there are values that we must embrace as conductors. These include striving for excellence, humble and conscious learning and, of course, inspiration – that, however, obviously, cannot be forced. Furthermore, it is important to always strive to do better, to never give up and to believe that what you brought to the table was good. I, for example, never listen to my old recordings because I would probably just be dissatisfied and feel that we have to do it all over again right now because it will definitely be better this time. Of course, I’m sure a few bars would actually turn out better…

– In the past year, not only the chaos created by the coronavirus has played a role in your life, but you have also had to deal with serious illness. How has this affected your artistic life? 

– Well, it was a big change indeed, weeks of chemotherapy, a series of operations… I spent a lot of time in hospital. A turn of events like this gives you a lot of time to reflect, it makes you realise the mistakes you’ve made and that you have to re-evaluate almost everything in life. And at such times we also hear music differently.

Of course, Covid is a big change in itself, and especially in the art world. Art is essentially based on an audience, and it was very difficult to play without an audience. Personally, I also dedicated the concert-less period to the study of new works: for example, I got very close to Dohnányi’s art, especially Symphony No. 1, but I also worked on some of his smaller musical pieces such as the Suite No. 16 or the overture to the opera Aunt Simona.

– In April you will be working with Dohnányi Orchestra at Müpa Budapest. How are you preparing for this project?

– I must admit I’m a bit nervous, as I haven’t conducted anything for two years, and this will be my first concert after a long break.

– What are your memories of the orchestra?

– Working together with BDO goes back a long time. I clearly remember our first concert, where I conducted Stravinsky’s Firebird and Beethoven’s Eroica. Even then I was impressed by the strength and discipline of the orchestra, but most of all by the joy they took in making music. Fortunately, that hasn’t changed since!

– What is the meaning of art and music to you?

– Music is the meaning and main substance of my life. Without music and art, our lives would certainly be poorer. But the big question is to what extent music can influence our character. What I feel is that a day without music is a day wasted. However, at times I do need to keep my distance in order to hear a piece of music in a new light. If I don’t encounter a piece for a long time and then pick it up again, it feels like hearing it for the first time. This is the case with The Song of the Earth, which will be performed at Müpa Budapest in April, and which I last conducted in Buenos Aires a few years ago, and now it feels almost like stepping into unknown territory.

You have conducted many Mahler works leading the orchestra…

– I have a special relationship with Mahler. Of course, you can’t grow up in Vienna without Mahler, and I myself conducted his works very often in later years. In fact, when I was music director in Kassel (where Mahler had previously held the same post), we even created a Mahler Festival. I also have very good connections with the Mahler Festival in Toblach. Toblach is the town where Mahler spent his summer holidays and where he composed The Song of the Earth. BDO and I were invited to the festival just before the pandemic, and this year – it seems – we are finally making it a reality. I have been to Toblach many times, but it will be a particular pleasure to be able to conduct this work with this wonderful orchestra in the very place where it was written. Before that, however, I shall do so at Müpa in Budapest, as part of the great comeback.

Sergei Nakariakov, the ‘no child prodigy’

‘God was looking for a trumpeter, and chose Sergei Nakariakov,’ enthuses French music critic Jean-Jacques Roth. Whoever this Jean-Jacques is, his enthusiasm will surely rub off on you as soon as you listen to a few recordings or watch a video of the Russian-Israeli trumpeter born in 1977. I myself immediately dove into the World Wide Web, into all the articles about and interviews with him. After some tragicomic struggle with the popular online translator and Russian-language interviews, I came across a German-made film from 2004. It’s called ‘No more Wunderkind’.

Text: Klaudia Kurta

Even if you’re as insensitive as a letterbox, you’ll be teary-eyed at the opening frames, albeit the film hasn’t even started yet. A gentle-faced young man in a white T-shirt is bustling through the streets of Nizhny Novgorod in an old Russian bus. In the background, the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1, Andante cantabile, plays. (Written for flugelhorn, of course.) The aforementioned passenger on the bustling bus seems perfectly ordinary, could be a badminton coach from the sports field next door or a pharmacy worker from the corner pharmacy, but we who watch this film know we are watching the ‘Paganini of the trumpet’. The man who has been called that since he was 13 years old.

The film starts

Sergei Nakariakov tells us about his hometown, looking out of the window at the landscape, the housing estates, the old Russian houses. Nizhny Novgorod was founded in the 13th century. St. Petersburg was the head of the country, Moscow the heart, and Nizhny Novgorod the pocket, as merchants from all corners of the world came here to sell and buy. It was a closed city in Soviet times, and between 1932 and 1990 it was renamed Gorky, after the writer Maxim Gorky. It was a closed city, which meant that foreigners were not allowed in, and it was terribly difficult for the residents to get out. Sergei was born here in May 1977 and moved away from here with his family 14 years later.

In between the cuts, new music is played: Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, Op.73, accompanied by Russian chamber musician and pianist Maria Mejerovich.

Vita Nakariakova, the mother, talks about their family, sitting in a garden with her children. The parents married in 1969 and nine months later Vera, Sergei’s elder sister was born. While her husband Misha – Mikhail Nakariakov – taught piano at a music school, she worked in a large factory. The father continues the family story sitting a little further away, under the Valery Chkalov monument. Sergei has a sister who is seven and a half years older than him, and the two parents decided from the very beginning that the little girl would become a musician. ‘Vera was very successful at music school. Despite her young age, she had already performed to some great musicians,’ says the mother. ‘Sergei also started playing the piano, at the same school, with the same teacher. But the outcome was a bit different, because Sergei was full of impatience – and playing the piano requires patience. This caused him a lot of difficulties,’ his father muses. ‘And then trouble hit… A devastating accident, a serious injury to Sergei’s spine. (He was climbing a tree with his friends and fell.) He spent three months in hospital. After that he was allowed to stand a little, walk a little, lie down, but he couldn’t sit for another six months. So he had to stop playing the piano.’ (In an interview with him, Sergei said that he had actually felt quite happy – of course not because of the spinal injury, but over the end of piano lessons.)

Now it’s the mother’s turn to continue: ‘Sergei’s dad had always wanted to play the trumpet, it was his dream. After our son’s accident, we decided that the trumpet would be the right instrument for him. Until then, this instrument had only given me the experience of big noise, I thought of it as an instrument of the military. But when I heard the recordings of Timofei Dokschitzer, a Soviet-Russian trumpet player and solo trumpeter of the Bolshoi Theatre, I thought it was incredible that it could be played like that.’ The father continues, ‘Timofei played Bach transcriptions from the Wohltemperiertes Klavier. He took some preludes and transcribed them for trumpet and organ. Sergei also listened to this recording. And I saw tears starting to fall from my little boy’s eyes. »I will never be able to do it like that!,« Sergei said. And then he made his big decision: he was going to be a classical trumpet player, no matter what.’

The little trumpeter

Moscow, 1990: Sergei is introduced to influential musicians and music teachers. A little boy with a red face and a tasselled cap stands with his family in front of the State Conservatory building. Occasionally he smiles at the camera. Inside, the father is talking to violinist-conductor Vladimir Spirakov, who gave Sergei his first good trumpet. The little boy just smiles. His father talks like this: ‘Dokschitzer inspired Sergei and me to follow the trumpet line. I told the boy, and he understood right away, that we should raise the trumpet higher than a simple soldier’s alarm instrument. Soon results started coming. By the age of ten he was playing the most difficult trumpet pieces.’

A 1989 recording shows Sergei playing with the Orchestra of the Soviet Union’s Ministry of Defence at a concert in Moscow. There are many serious soldiers in uniform, and in front of them a little boy in white trousers and a white ruffled shirt plays Arban’s The Carnival of Venice. Literally without batting an eyelid. The conductor asks him a few questions. ‘How old are you and how long have you been playing the trumpet?’ ‘I’m 12 years old and I’ve been playing the trumpet for three years,’ comes the reply. Uncle Conductor’s words trail off for a moment. ‘Did you learn to play anything else before?’ ‘Yes, the piano, for three years.’ ‘I’ve been playing the trumpet for twenty years, I have a lot of experience, but the pieces that you play are difficult for all trumpet players. Do you practice a lot?’ ‘Yes, a lot.’

We are back in 2004. The conversation continues outside the imposing State Bank building, with Sergei, the father, and good friend trumpeter Yevgeny D. Galkin. ‘Back then, everyone wanted to make money somehow,’ says Misha, the father. ‘We played at funerals, my friend Yevgeny played the trumpet and I played the tuba. But we had to move on. One day I told Yevgeny I wanted to show him something. I showed him Sergei.’ ‘Sergei didn’t need lessons. Even if there was something he didn’t know and his father, who wasn’t a trumpet player, couldn’t help him, I only had to show him once. He got the hang of it right away and it worked,’ says Yevgeny. ‘Teachers tried to impose the traditional methods on him. But he wasn’t having it. Conflicts arose and I had to tell his father to let him do it his way. (Sergei smiles from behind his sunglasses.) Here’s a photo from a TV show with the conductor, Sergei and me in it. Sergei was only 22 kilos, the smallest in his class.’

A 1990 video recording, Sergei rehearsing with his sister Vera, with their father instructing them. The little boy gets stuck. ‘Calm down and play it again! Don’t try to set a new speed record! A little virtuosity is good, but only a little. Pay more attention to quality and make it musically interesting! Play in the mood you’re in! It was very good like that.’ What’s being rehearsed is Boehme’s Tarantella, later heard in a concert recording, and another cut takes us back to 2004, where it is played with the aforementioned Maria Mejerovic.

‘When I was 12 or 13 years old, my parents stopped working, I started earning money. By giving concerts. In 1990 Dmitry Sitkovetsky (Soviet-Russian violinist and conductor) invited me to a festival in Finland. It was the first time in my life that I saw a capitalist country. I played Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Evgeny Kissin.’

‘Since it was arranged through Moscow,’ Misha takes over, ‘there was no problem. We got permission to leave Gorky – which was then a closed city; no foreigners were allowed in, because of the many military factories and the many military secrets. After the festival Sergei received many invitations and we always got permission through a lot of difficulties. Many concerts fell through because the official permission to travel from Moscow arrived only the day after departure. I realised that if we stayed here, my son would never see the world. He would be locked up in a cage. Like my parents, like myself. So we decided to leave.’ ‘We moved to Israel,’ continues Vita, the mother. ‘I’m Jewish, but not a Zionist. It was our only chance: to move, to give concerts.’ ‘Homesickness is hard, of course,’ adds Misha. That’s why I come home every year, to see this beautiful city, this beautiful river. And sometimes I feel very sad indeed.’

Far from home

He is performing Sergei Poulenc’s ‘C’ on flugelhorn. The special thing about this piece is that Poulenc set to music a poem by Louis Aragon called The Bridges of Cé, which speaks of days long gone and of the country he left when he crossed the bridges of Cé.

TV show footage from 1993: 15-year-old Sergei, already a big boy, arrives on stage wearing a suit, accompanied by his father. They are in Paris, the youngster does not speak French yet, only the father. They perform a trumpet transcription of Grigoras Grinicu’s virtuoso work Hora Staccato. Frame after frame, I suddenly notice Sergei introducing himself to a young lady in Japanese, ‘I am Nikolai.’ For a moment, I wonder if I’ve dozed off and missed something, I even check my notes to see if I’ve missed the name of the protagonist of our article! Sergei tells me what happened in a chronological order. ‘A Japanese film company was looking for a trumpeter with a Russian accent. They couldn’t find anyone, so they took a risk and taught me Japanese instead. (The title of the film: Taiga No Itteki – in English: A Single Drop of Water in a Mighty River.) One of the producers came to a concert I played and then to a signing, so they observed me from a distance for a while and then they approached me and told me about this project. It was all quite exciting for me, of course. I went to Japan for the shooting of the film, but I didn’t know anything about what was where, I didn’t speak a word of Japanese, so I had to memorise everything. Over time I lost the feeling of home. We moved around so much, first to Israel, then to France (where I studied at the Paris Conservatory)…, that I ended up thinking home was where my mother was.’

And if you haven’t cried yet, dear readers (film viewers), now is your chance, as once again the Andante Cantabile from Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1 is being played while we continue to watch the streets and houses of Nizhny Novgorod from the bus. But throwing handkerchiefs away, Sergei gives his humble account about how he has the best instrument in the world.

‘I think, or rather, I’m sure… that I have the best flugelhorn in the world, and I’m quite proud of it,’ Sergei declares. “It is a four-piston, not at all ordinary flugelhorn. It has an extended range, allowing to perform different transcriptions, such as horn concerts or cello concerts. When I play pieces written for wind instruments such as the horn or the bassoon, I try to imagine how certain parts might sound on string instruments, just to find a different approach. Of course, they need to breathe too, but they don’t have the same limitations as wind instruments. I try to play in a ‘string way’ with a circular breathing technique. You could also say that the flugelhorn is a ‘wind-cello’.


‘Before I start to make a transcription, I have to listen to the work of music and listen very carefully so that the piece becomes part of me. Afterwards I don’t have to sit with the sheet music, I can even go for a walk. At this stage I can already imagine how the piece would sound on trumpet or flugelhorn. And you have to always remember that playing the cello or the violin, for example, is much easier physically than playing the trumpet. I have to leave ‘harmless’ places where I don’t have to play anything extra, just long, sustained notes at the most,’ says the father.

‘It all became risky,’ Sergey takes over, ‘when the various concert organisers started to look at me as a serious musician and not as a young talent who could play in a virtuosic way. But that first period had to be over! When I play, for example, The Carnival of Venice at a concert, preceded by, say, one of Mozart’s horn concertos, after the concert the trumpeters come up to greet me and are amazed at how fast and virtuosic my play is – referring to The Carnival of Venice. But the Mozart piece is not so interesting for them anymore. And that’s a pity, I’m sorry about that, because that’s not why I do it. Anyway, I never felt like a child prodigy. I’m just lucky to have found my own path early on – with the help of my father, of course, who is an extremely talented man.’

His father joins in the same reflection: ‘He’s not a ‘wunder’ and not a ‘kind’ at all.

At the end of the film, we are at a train station, Sergei says goodbye to his father and gets on the train. Where this journey is taking him is not revealed. What is certain is that he is coming to Budapest this April. Be our guest on 7 April 2020 at 7.30 pm at the Music Academy, at the concert of the Budapest Spring Festival, where Gábor Hollerung will conduct the following works, BDO and Sergei Nakariakov.

Programme: Verdi: The Sicilian Vespers – Overture, Arban: The Carnival of Venice, Ponchielli: Concerto in F Major, Respighi: The Pines of Rome

Ticket purchase:

Source: Hangoló 2021. Autumn – BDO’s periodic programme magazine